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The Spiritual Atheist

When I think about spirituality and what it means, I have to include atheism as part of that. Too often, spirituality is talked about as if it means religion exclusively. It is as if spirituality can only be contained in holy items, rituals, identities and often deities. Yet, there are plenty of people who may have a spiritual outlook without many of the things that we associate with religions. This makes me wonder whether or not atheists are spiritual in some way. My definition of spirituality as a relationship to life includes atheism. Not only that, atheists do have beliefs even if they are not in support of a god.

I realized one day that atheists have a belief about God. They believe there is no God. I bet some would argue that’s not true. However, the very rationale for rejecting God is a belief. The argument that there is no way to collect any evidence to prove there is a God also means there’s no way to prove there isn’t a God. Therefore, to say there is no God can only come from a belief.

Agnostics are the true non-believers, because they profess no belief either way. Agnosticism is essentially “not knowing” or perhaps not believing. I don’t think there is a big agnostic movement that simply keeps an open mind knowing there’s no way to prove one way or the other. In fact, when I look for local agnostic groups, I see they include atheists and “skeptics”. Agnostics may be skeptical, but by definition, they have not concluded anything either way.

The way I describe myself is as a “secular spiritualist”. I don’t think there is a separation between worldly experience and meaningful relationship with life. In fact, I see no point in thinking that a rational, sensual exploration of life is at odds with meaningful philosophy or even mystical experience. If you want to learn about a creator then it makes sense to learn as much about what they created. In my view, secular spiritualism is a non-denominational spiritual life that includes practical learning and observation.

This is why I see spirituality as the relationship we have with life. Even if someone doesn’t believe in God, they still have to make sense of life somehow. They still have to reconcile why they make an effort or why they choose between options that have equally practical value. There are some choices that we make that can’t be simply rationalized. Even if we do rationalize, we have to start with some kind of premise that doesn’t always come from observation. In other word, we have to begin with belief, and whenever there isn’t enough evidence to support any conclusion, belief is all we have.

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